On the Road: Mary Hill State Park to Portland

Currently I am trying to reign in my eating habits developed over the summer. The ability to curb eating whatever I want, whenever I want and in nearly any quantity wanted is more difficult than I imagined. Foods being consumed are now on the healthier end, but the portion size needs to go down or I will continue to grow until my next tour. Good news is I received my bike Tuesday and it is now put together. A trip to the local bike shop will benefit me greatly as there are a few parts (pedals & disc brake rotor) that should be tightened by the specific tools.

Here is a breakdown of the windy rides along the Columbia River Gorge.

August 11: Mary Hill State Park to Hood River (54 miles)

Jon and I start our day late. Having done the extra 30 miles the previous evening, we have a quick 15 miles prior to finding Jon’s father and aunt, Seth and Lisa, at Heritage Landing . We pedal over the bridge from our campsite into Biggs, Oregon, a glorified truck stop. The day is already heating up, but that does not stop us from eating a massive breakfast. While we eat, we listen to a trucker talk about his German sausage order, it MUST be well done and the fact that pedaling acid around town may land his friend in jail.

After the morning’s entertainment is over, we fill our water bottles and hit the road to find the famed Columbia River Gorge or Prevailing Winds finding themselves. Knowing it is a shorter day of only 50 miles or so, it does not seem to bother us. I would not feel that way for long. Jon maintains a quick pace this morning, pretty surprising for someone who almost bonked the night before. It is quite amazing how resilient the human body and mind can be. I suspect the fact that he is seeing family for the first time in over two months may be added excitement to his morning.

Pulling into the agreed upon location, we are having a tough time finding Seth and Lisa. We ride past the first parking area and a boat launch towards another parking area without luck. Fortunately the park’s sprinklers are running at this time and I navigate myself and waterproof bike into some thick, cold bursts of water to take the edge off the steamy morning. Jon gets ahold of Lisa to confirm her location, which is in a “parking lot”. There is one more lot, but it is up a significant hill which is surprising to us they would have chosen such a far off place to unpack their bikes. Jon pulls a few more details out of Lisa and it turns out they are near the campsites of Deschutes River State Park next door.

The family is elated to see each other. I am happy to finally meet the individuals who Jon has told me so much about. Mark, Lisa’s significant other, is helping unload bikes from his new truck. I introduce myself to all, but let them catch up. Soon we say our good byes to Mark who will be greeting us in Hood River at his and Lisa’s home. On the way out of the lot I find one last sprinkler to ride through, almost knocking Lisa over as I head towards liquid relief. My blinders must have been on this particular morning.

Left to Right: Seth, Jon, Lisa & Me

Today would be one of three days in the entire trip where the route utilizes an interstate. While Jon and I are not thrilled about the idea, we have done it and likely have in worse riding conditions on many days prior. Seth and Lisa on the other hand are understandably concerned. Not only are they taking their road bikes onto the interstate, but they haven’t been riding in heavy truck traffic all summer long. This makes for a daunting 10 miles on I-81.

Dressed in safety yellow and Lisa with an orange flag on the back of the bike, the family takes off on the interstate. Jon glides along as if he does not have four panniers and a 20 MPH headwind in his face. I hang with the group for a mile or two before the wind gusts slow my pace. Lisa’s flag takes flight around a turn landing in the middle of two lanes, I am unable help recoup her unknown loss. The group maintains a healthy lead as I hang back and take in the sights, enjoying the surroundings. One cannot blame them for wanting to get off the highway, I felt the same way in Wyoming about a month prior. The good part about touring is you can go at your own speed and know you will find your friends at the end of the day’s ride.

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I-84

The ride is gorgeous as the dry terrain changes from an arid yellow landscape to a few shades of green. The interstate exit took us to a bike path. The greens become deeper as we pass the Dalles and Google’s new Data Center, or server building powered by the Colombia River. We take a snack break at a The Columbia River Discovery Center. The receptionist was not excited about us having our cleats on inside the building. The cafe was closed, so PB&J, candy, chips and soda were all we could gather.IMG_20170811_123931

The remainder of the ride was even more breathtaking and I felt as though I was finally in the lush landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Thick moss covers a majority of each tree, the density of the woods, blocks the sun and provides much needed relief as the group tackles steep climbs. Thick forest and switchback roads allows focus to be placed on the surrounding nature and not what steep hills lie ahead. This is my preferred ascent scenario as the turning roads provide small achievable goals to work towards as opposed to one long lingering peak at the end. I find the others at the top and we descend together. I give them a head start, allowing myself extra time to catch my breath. With my weight and larger wheel size, I reach 40 MPH in no time and pump the brakes as I pass Lisa, trying to catch Seth and Jon.

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Switchback City

At the bottom of the descent we are on the east side of Hood River. Fantastic! The feeling of accomplishment, having fought wind and hills all day, is fleeting. Lisa informs me that her and Mark live on the far side of town up a “short” steep hill. The hill is certainly steep, but not short. Ever turn offers a new climb. When we finally reach her neighborhood, the road flattens out. Mark has a fantastic spread waiting for us consisting of smoked salmon (caught, smoked and prepped by Mark himself from the Klickitat River), cream cheese, french baguettes and Full Sail’s Session Lager. I take my fill as the group cycles through showers and clean clothes. I settle my bedroom for the night then sit down to our next round of salmon. The dinner is pulled from the grill and somehow more delicious than the appetizers. The group celebrates our first day together and the reunion of family. All exhausted from the day’s ride, we retire early after the conversation begins to die down.

The following day would be a rest day where Jon’s girlfriend and her family meet us in Hood River. The day is spent eating fairly healthy, checking out town and taste testing a few of the local breweries. There was another gourmet dinner waiting for us at the end of the night, courtesy of Mark.
August 13: Hood River to Portland (70 miles)

High plains deserts are now far behind us. The group leaves around 7 AM to take advantage of what is hopefully a sleepy Sunday morning on the interstate. To our surprise I-84 is seemingly just as busy as we found it on a Friday afternoon. Also just as windy. Per usual, I trail Jon. Seth hangs with Jon often pushing ahead. Lisa on the other hand decides on a different approach for the day and drafts behind me. Smart lady as my large frame and hefty bike provide significant cover for her. All feeling a bit more IMG_20170813_084642comfortable, we stop at a few choice locations for quick pictures. Below is one of me that does not show the terrain rather my face as Seth backs over my foot while attempting to take a selfie. He was backing up to offer his photog support in a picture, while not flattering, I find it amusing.

 

After the interstate, we get to ride on Historical Route 30. Not much in the way of shoulders, this route will take us past some amazing sites along the Gorge. Two waterfalls (Horsetail Falls & Multnomah Falls) and an amazing overlook from the Vista House. The advantages of cycling are ever present as we pass a traffic jam at each waterfall, quickly parking our bikes and enjoying the views in no time at all. The first rainy day in 60+ days in the Portland area did nothing to thwart the masses from getting outside.

In Cascade Locks we road through the tail end of a race. The town had a 5k, 10k and half marathon take place that morning. I even got to see the Bridge of the Gods which appears in the end of the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. The forest paths took as past water stations for the race participants. The people manning the stations cheered us on as we passed runners heading the opposite direction. At one point the trail ends and six flights of stairs must be climbed. A rail is supplied to the one side of the steps to allow for a bike to be pushed up the flights. This was helpful when carrying a 90 pound bike. The available photos are less flattering than the failed selfie, so I will hold off from sharing.

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Bridge of the Gods

The final major climb of the day to Vista House was challenging, yet amazing. It’s incredible how daunting something may seem in the beginning, but by the end you truly find pleasure in the effort. The groups rests at the top. Jon shows a few photos he had snapped of me. Had there not been another 30 or so miles and a hot meal waiting for us at Jon’s grandparent’s apartment, I would have liked to spend more time taking in the views. Pressing on, we enjoy some descents and arrive at the edge of the Portland outskirts.

The ride from Troutdale was a bit bland and had me a little concerned about what the city Jon had been raving about since Kansas had to offer. I was pleasantly incorrect as we entered southwest Portland and the funky neighborhoods greeted us. The many bike paths towards the Hawthorne Bridge. Before I knew it I was riding on a river path with what seemed like half of the city. After another mile, we were arriving at the grandparent’s massive apartment. I showered and ate half of the cheese and charcuterie board laid out. Normally I would be slightly more cognizant of consuming an entire party’s snacks, but found it difficult to stop. Had a carefully plated work boot been on the table, I may have tried it. We shared a beautifully prepared meal with Jon’s family. After the meal was done, Jon, Kerry and I leave to go check out Jon’s new apartment and see his friends.

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View of the Willamette River from South West Portland

The following day, Jon would press on to the coast to finish his trip with his family. As much as I would have liked to reach the coast with Jon, I also wanted to finish my journey with Adair. She would be flying into Portland the coming Friday to meet me in Corvallis for the eclipse. For the next few days, I would spend my time relaxing, catching up on Game of Thrones and sightseeing in Portland.

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